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Pritzker mask mandate for Illinois schools unlikely to quell COVID-19 battles at suburban districts

Governor Pritzker’s mask mandate for students in preschool through high school statewide arrives just weeks before the start of the 2021-22 school year, as school boards across Illinois scramble to update their COVID-19 guidance following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation last week that everyone wear masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

“Given our current trajectory in hospitalizations and ICU usage, we have a limited amount of time right now to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall,” Pritzker said.

At Elgin-based Unit School District 46, Superintendent Tony Sanders expressed support for Pritzker’s mandate, which helped bolster his recent recommendation that all of the district’s roughly 37,000 students, teachers and staff at more than 50 schools wear masks indoors.

“I applaud the governor for taking a direct action to protect students from the spread of COVID-19, especially this delta variant. … He absolutely did the right thing,” Sanders said.

Deerfield mom Michelle Hammer said she will ensure her two teenage daughters comply with Pritzker’s masking mandate when they start classes at Deerfield High School later this month.

But Hammer said she remains disheartened about the escalating tensions in her community after a recent dust-up with a Township High School District 113 school board member, who Hammer said directed an expletive toward her during a Monday virtual board meeting.

The president of the District 113 school board, Jodi Shapira, said in a Wednesday statement, “while no excuse, this incident is an unfortunate and regretful example of the raw emotions that have been unleashed by so many over the past 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Yet, consistent with district policy, it is our expectation that all members of the District 113 community will be respectful and civil in their interactions with each other, even, and perhaps especially, when discussing controversial and divisive topics of concern to all,” Shapira said.

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